What is Frotteurism?

Frotteuristic disorder, or frotteurism, is a paraphilia in which a person is sexually aroused by the act or fantasy of making unwanted—and often unrecognized—physical contact with others while in public spaces. Frotteuristic activities commonly occur in crowded areas where the victim might assume the physical contact is accidental. Settings typically include elevators, escalators, buses, trains, subways, or crowds in general. Frotteurs may also choose highly public locations such as these in the hopes that their victim will feel too ashamed to raise alarm and worry that they themselves might be blamed for “making a scene.” Some theories of paraphilia, such as the theory of courtship disorder, assume that frotteurs (“gropers”) view their touching as part of an intimate relationship with their victim. However, these theories require more substantiating research. The assailant generally attempts to escape detection after groping the victim. Some frotteurs will wear some sort of wrap around their penises to mask any evidence of ejaculation resulting from the contact. Such wraps have been used as evidence to prove intent to commit acts of frotteurism in criminal cases. The most “extreme” frotteurs might also masturbate directly onto their victims.1

The term “frotteurism” comes from the French verb “frotter,” meaning “to rub.” Originally, frotteurism was officially known as “frottage,” which is still used in some legal codes today. “Toucherism” is a term closely related to frotteurism. These terms are effectively interchangeable—the only minor difference being that “toucherism” refers specifically to hands-on groping acts and fantasies, while “frotteurism” refers to both hands-on and hands-off acts and fantasies.

Diagnosing Frotteuristic Disorder

Individuals are generally diagnosed with frotteuristic disorders only if (1) their groping behavior occurs over a period of at least six months and are coupled with recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies and urges and if (2) the fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress to oneself or others, and/or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Afflicted individuals generally start to develop frotteuristic disorder during adolescence.2

Who is the Typical Frotteur?

Most perpetrators are males aged 15-25 years. Frotteurism has also been noted to be common among older, shy, socially or sexually inhibited individuals. Most groping incidents are carried out by dedicated, persistent frotteurs, although there are cases of otherwise “conventional” people engaging in frotteurism. The vast majority of victims are females.1

What are the Causes?

There is no general consensus in the field of sexology as to what causes frotteurism. However, a few theories do exist:

  1. An incident occurred in which the individual accidentally rubbed up against someone in a crowded area and became aroused, thus causing such an activity to become a conditioned stimulus for sexual arousal.
  2. Differences in the brain of a frotteur exist that cause a lack of impulse control.
  3. Negative childhood experiences, including sexual abuse, may have led to the development of the sexual disorder.

Also, as mentioned before, frotteurism can be considered a part of courtship disorder. In this framework, frotteurism is, for the paraphile, the equivalent to “heavy petting” and/or foreplay. According to surveys conducted in the nineties, one-third of the subjects had admitted to engaging in behavior that would meet the definition of frotteurism. Though most men have probably experienced the urge to touch an attractive woman they see in public, persistent performance of these behaviors qualifies them as a paraphilia.1

What is the Treatment?

Treatment typically involves psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. In behavioral therapy, the frotteur must learn to control the impulse to touch nonconsenting victims. Medroxyprogesterone acetate, a predominantly female hormone, is sometimes prescribed to decrease sexual desire.1

According to some theories of paraphilia, however, there is no way to effectively eliminate paraphilic desires.1 Therefore, those who engage in frotteurism may want to consider seeking out communities and individuals who are willing to engage in frotteuristic roleplay scenarios.

When Should a Frotteur Seek Treatment?

Frotteurism is considered a form of sexual assault and a criminal act. If you suspect that you may have a frotteuristic disorder, seek help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional as soon as possible. Remember that your disorder is not your fault, and that for the safety and comfort and yourself and others, you deserve proper treatment.


1. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. 2nd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2012. Print.

2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Print.

Last Updated 3 April 2014.